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Great Songwriting
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The Sound of Silence

Songwriter: Paul Simon

Performed by: Simon and Garfunkel

Hello darkness, my old friend

From the outset, Paul Simon makes clear that The Sound of Silence is not going to have your run-of-the-mill pop song lyrics. Although the melody is strong, and Simon and Garfunkel's distinctive vocal harmonies are almost an integral part of the song, I think it's the lyrics of the song that really set it apart.

The young Paul Simon uses a full compliment of poetic devices – to the point where the song runs the risk of sounding like a high school poetry exercise. But the song does serve as an object lesson in how to add bite to your lyrics.

For a start, the title The Sound of Silence is so familiar to us that it is easy to forget the power of this contradiction in terms. This paradoxical expression is echoed later in the song by disturbing

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

The opening couplet, the darkness is personified as an “old friend” with whom the narrator has come to talk about his dream. We get some nice alliteration, in the title of course, but also with such lines as the sibilant

Left its seeds while I was sleeping

The song is full of metaphor and simile. Silence grows “like a cancer”. The “naked” neon light “stabs” and “splits the night”. And perhaps most poignantly:

But my words like silent raindrops fell,
And echoed
In the wells of silence

All of these tools of the poet's trade are used to great effect, as Paul Simon paints his nightmarish vision, climaxing with the idolatry of the new “Neon God” of mass media and commercialism. People are no longer able to communicate person-to-person, and the result is a spiritual vacuum. The neon sign itself ominously “flashes out its warning” of the consequences:

The words of the prophet
Are written on the subway walls

There's trouble brewing.


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